Welsh Assembly Members call for government to take “urgent action” over hepatitis C

Yesterday, the Welsh Assembly Health, Social Care and Sport Committee released its report into the progress that has been made towards eliminating hepatitis C in Wales.

New effective treatments mean it is now possible for the disease, which can cause fatal liver damage and cancer, to be eliminated as a major public health concern. Currently around 12,000-14,000 people in Wales are infected with hepatitis C but the majority of these do not know they have the disease.

However the committee said that Wales was not currently on track to meet the goal set by the World Health Organisation of elimination by 2030 and that “without urgent action (…) the elimination opportunity will be lost”.

The committee said it was “very concerning” to hear about the uncertainty around the future funding for dedicated roles to tackle hepatitis C in health boards and at national level.

The committee’s report recommends that the Welsh Government produces a national elimination strategy which includes an awareness campaign for people at-risk of contracting the disease. It also says that the current treatment targets for Local Health Boards must be considered minimum targets – currently most health boards are failing to meet their treatment targets. 

Finally, the report recommends more investment for hepatitis C testing in Welsh prisons. Opt-out testing for blood-borne viruses like hepatitis C is currently available in Welsh prisons but only 34% of new inmates are currently tested. Witnesses told the committee this low level of testing was down to a lack of resources and high staff turnover.

Rachel Halford, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust responded to the committee’s findings, “The committee has warned that rather than moving towards elimination, funding and support for hepatitis C elimination is heading off a cliff edge.” 

“We need a strategic plan to eliminate hepatitis C and we need funding to be allocated strategically. It’s shocking that key funds haven’t been guaranteed past 2021.”

“Wales could easily be the first nation to eliminate hepatitis C in the UK but at the moment Wales has low testing rates and in most areas Local Health Boards are failing to reach their treatment target. The committee is right: we need urgent action to eliminate this devastating disease.” 

The Hepatitis C Trust gave evidence to the committee in January. You can read more about this here.  

The full report can be read here.